Sir Michael TIPPETT(1905-1998)
Concerto for violin, viola, cello and orchestra (1980) [35:43]
Concerto for piano and orchestra (1953-55) [36:35]
Martino Tirimo (piano), Ernst Kovacic (violin),
Gerard Caussé (viola), Alexander Baillie (cello)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Michael Tippett
rec. Studio 7, BBC Broadcasting House, Manchester, 7 July 1990 (Triple
Concerto) and 17 May 1991 (Piano Concerto).
NIMBUS NI 5301 [72:32]
All recordings performed or conducted by composers of their
own work have value, and the recordings made with Sir Michael
Tippett on the Nimbus label between 1989 and 1991 are all ‘must
have’ versions for anyone interested in this composer, and all
are excellent performances in their own right.
The Concerto for violin, viola, cello and orchestra or
Triple Concerto was commissioned for the London Symphony
Orchestra’s 75th anniversary in 1979, but was in
fact completed in the year of Tippett’s 75th birthday
and first performed at a Promenade Concert in 1980 with violinist
György Pauk, viola player Nobuko Imai and cellist Ralph Kirshbaum.
These performers conducted by Sir Colin Davis later recorded
the piece for Philips 420 781-2, and this is and remains the
reference recording. This triple concerto is fiendishly difficult
in places, and while the forces under Tippett himself are very
good, the refinement in the solo parts and sense of ensemble
with the LSO recording is a few degrees better. The Very
slow section here is also unbeatable – one of the most incredible
and moving sounds you will ever hear on any recording anywhere.
So, anyone really wanting the full effect of this piece will
want Sir Colin Davis and the LSO, but they should also have
Sir Michael Tippett. His recording is a little longer but in
terms of tempi there is little essential difference. Given the
drier acoustic of the Manchester studio, the atmosphere and
intensity created by the players on the Nimbus recording is
impressive, and the colourful, resonant and subtly nuanced orchestration
of the piece has a clarity which is striking and memorable.
The frisson of those little inflections which begin the first
Interlude work perfectly, and the warmth of the brass
in these gentler sections gives the lie to that section’s busy,
even violent power in the first movement. That special Very
slow movement isn’t quite as spine-tingling here, I think
because the solo violin and cello sound more like two separate
instruments rather than one organic and heavenly voice. There
are still plenty of highly expressive and lovely moments though,
and the playing is impassioned and honest. The percussion riffs
in the second interlude are very different between recordings,
and while I’m not sure Tippett’s jazzy syncopated cymbal is
entirely a good idea it certainly points out a difference of
opinion one way or another. The same goes for the final Medium
fast movement, in which Tippett is a few notches quicker
than Davis and therefore that much tighter and more exciting.
From a mature masterpiece to an earlier work which took longer
to find its place in the repertoire, the Piano Concerto was
conceived as “a concerto in which... the piano may sing”, and
breathes the same air as Tippett’s opera The Midsummer Marriage.
Once again the composer’s own directing of one of the mainstays
of his catalogue is an essential purchase, and this performance
is a good one. The recorded piano sound is a little jangly –
the instrument itself doesn’t sound like the best one in the
world to be honest – and the balance is a little disjointed,
the piano if anything a little low against the orchestra, and
frequently overpowered by it. I’m more inclined to complain
if a solo piano is unrealistically large in relation to the
orchestra with concerto recordings, and with the solo part often
joining with the orchestra almost like a continuo part this
is also an aspect of the piece as a whole, but students wanting
to hear every detail of the solo part will have to strain quite
hard at times. The balance of first violins is also rather on
the sharp side in this recording, and the lower instrument and
timpani rather tubby and indistinct. As far as I’m concerned
the main competition for this piece is with Steven Osborne on
the Hyperion label (see review),
which has a more appealing piano sound and a richer accompaniment
in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins.
This said, you won’t want to be without Tippett’s own conducting,
and there are special things on the Nimbus disc as well. The
horn calls for the beginning of the Molto lento e tranquillo
are particularly intense for instance, and it’s fascinating
to hear how those high winds are allowed to sing over the rest
of the orchestra, an aspect of doubtful orchestration under
Brabbins, but given substance and a greater sense of form and
direction by the composer. With the final Vivace it is
Tippett who is slower, almost a whole minute longer in duration
than Brabbins who sounds far more in control, as do his musicians.
Martino Tirimo shines in this rhythmic solo however, and the
music retains energy despite a less urgent and dramatic feel.
With better all-round recordings available, this Nimbus CD does
rather rely on its USP, that of having the composer as conductor.
Tippett was a good performer of his own music though, and while
elements of detail and refinement are bettered elsewhere, these
recordings are essential listening for connoisseurs of this
composer. Collectors will find more such releases in the Nimbus
catalogue, of which that with the Crown of the Year NI
5266 is particularly fine (review).
By all means treat yourself to the alternatives but this is
by no means a ‘specialist’ choice and is good in its own right,
in the main for the Triple Concerto but with unique qualities
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